Manchester Ship Canal Cruise

We took a trip aboard the Mersey Ferry boat the ‘Snowdrop’ which is currently painted as a dazzle ship (see my earlier blog post) on a cruise up the River Mersey and along the Manchester Ship Canal to its terminus at Salford Quays.

The Manchester Ship Canal is 36-miles long (58 km) linking Manchester to the Irish Sea.  In large part it follows alongside the routes of the rivers Mersey and Irwell.

There are many landmarks along the way.  There are many different types of bridges which have to be lifted or swung aside to allow ships to pass up or down the canal.  As well as bridges there are many sets of locks to be negotiated.  In order to travel from the tidal River Mersey the ship canal has to negotiate four sets of locks (including the entrance lock at Eastham) which lift vessels around 60 feet (18 m) up to Manchester.  And on the banks of the canal there are many historic buildings and a changing industrial landscape.

The rivers Mersey and Irwell were first made navigable in the early 18th century. Goods were also transported on the Runcorn extension of the Bridgewater Canal (from 1776) and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (from 1830), but by the late 19th century the Mersey and Irwell Navigation had fallen into disrepair and were often unusable.  Manchester’s business community viewed the charges imposed by Liverpool’s docks and the railway companies as excessive and a ship canal was proposed as a way of giving ocean-going vessels direct access to Manchester.  A public campaign was set up to enlist support for the scheme and was presented to Parliament as a bill in 1882. However, faced with stiff opposition from Liverpool, the canal’s supporters were unable to gain the necessary Act of Parliament to allow the scheme to go ahead until 1885.

Construction of the ship canal began in 1887 taking six years to complete at a cost of £15 million which is estimated to be equivalent to about £1.65 billion in today’s money!  When the ship canal opened in January 1894 it was the largest river navigation canal in the world, and enabled the newly created Port of Manchester to become Britain’s third busiest port despite the city being about 40 miles (64 km) inland.

Changes to shipping methods and the growth of containerisation during the 1970s and 1980s meant that many ships were now too big to use the canal and traffic declined, resulting in the closure of the terminal docks at Salford in 1984. The canal is able to accommodate a range of vessels from coastal ships to inter-continental cargo liners but it is not large enough for most modern vessels. By 2011 traffic had decreased from its peak in 1958 of 18 million long tons (20 million short tons) of freight each year to about 7 million long tons (7.8million short tons).

The canal was bought by the private company Peel Ports in 1993.  Peel are re-developing sites along the ship canal and are looking to increase shipping from 8,000 containers a year to 100,000 by 2030 as part of their Atlantic Gateway project.

I took a number of photographs along the route.

We took the ferry from Seacombe with a short hop to the Pierhead at Liverpool and down along the Mersey.

Woodside Ferry terminal in Birkenhead is the second Mersey Ferry terminal on the Wirral side.  The New Brighton and Tranmere ferry terminals having long since closed down.

Cammel Lairds shipbuilders yard with the twelve century Birkenhead Priory building as a backdrop.  I’ve posted in the past about both of these sites.

The former grand merchants houses at Rock Park on Wirral look much more elegant from the river even looking through the Tranmere Oil Terminal.  Rock Park comprises a varied selection of Grade 2 listed villas built between 1836 and 1850 along with landscaped drives and a Victorian Esplanade overlooking the River Mersey.  The Tranmere Oil Terminal was opened on 8 June 1960 to handle vessels of up to 65,000 tons, and is connected to the Stanlow Oil Refinery by a 15mile (24 km) pipeline. Part of the terminal occupies the site of a former ferry service to Liverpool, with the old pier considerably modified.

At Eastham locks on the River Mersey forms the entrance to the Manchester Ship Canal just after the Eastham Ferry Hotel.  We passed the Sten Idun chemical tanker being navigated down the canal by the MSC tugs Victory and Viking.

At Ellesmere Port the canal is joined by the Shropshire Union Canal, at a site now occupied by the National Waterways Museum. The area was a 7-acre (2.8 ha) canal port linking the Shropshire Union Canal to the River Mersey. It was designed by Thomas Telford and it remained operational until the 1950s.  I’ve posted about the boat museum in an earlier blog.

Essar Oil UK Stanlow Oil refinery is situated on the south bank of the Manchester Ship Canal, which is used to transport seaborne oil for refining and chemicals for Essar and Shell.  Stanlow has a refining capacity of 12 million tonnes per year, it is the second largest in the United Kingdom and produces a sixth of the UK’s petrol needs.  Stanlow is also a large producer for commodities such as jet fuel and diesel.  The refinery serves much of England through the UK oil pipeline network.  Oil is delivered to the Tranmere Oil Terminal via ship and pumped to Stanlow, where it is then refined and stored for delivery.

At Weston, near Runcorn, the ship canal also connects with the Weaver Navigation.  Stobart Ports now own the docks at Weston Point.  They are developing the site as an ‘inter-modal’ port facility to enable freight, currently carried by road, to be transported by rail and water. This will see increased warehousing, new container handling facilities, an extension to the existing West Coast main line rail siding, a new link road, and improved navigable access between the dock and the Manchester Ship Canal.

At Runcorn Ineos manufactures chemicals including chlorine, chlorine-containing compounds including vinyl chloride, heavy chemicals including alkalis, and fluorine-containing compounds. A separate business within the same company manufactures salt from brine transported by pipeline from the saltfields of central Cheshire.

The Runcorn railway bridge is on a branch of the West Coast Main Line and provides frequent services to the Liverpool Lime Street and London Euston stations.  Locally it has been called the Queen Ethelfleda Viaduct but more widely as the Britannia Bridge. The bridge is named after Ethelfleda because the southern abutments and pier were built on the site of the Saxon walled settlement built by her in 915.  Parts of the bridge are castellated to reflect this. There are three shields above the footway – the Coat of Arms of the City of London, Britannia (from the crest of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) company and the Liver Bird of Liverpool.  Because of the crest the bridge is also known as the Britannia Railway Bridge.

The A533 road crosses the Runcorn Gap over the Silver Jubilee Bridge, the lowest bridge crossing of the River Mersey.  It is a through arch bridge with a main arch span of 330 m. It was opened in 1961 as a replacement for the Widnes-Runcorn Transporter Bridge, and was initially known simply as the Runcorn Bridge or Runcorn–Widnes Bridge.  In 1975–77 it was widened, after which it was given its official name in honour of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.  The bridge is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building.

The Silver Jubilee Bridge is a bottleneck and becomes congested at peak travel times, and in the event of a breakdown or accident on the bridge, traffic in the area comes to a standstill. To resolve this problem, a second crossing of the Mersey the Mersey Gateway is now being built.  Construction began in May 2014 and is due to be completed by the autumn of 2017. It is located approximately just less than a mile (1.5km) to the east of the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge that connects the towns of Widnes and Runcorn.  It is will be a toll bridge, with three lanes in each direction.  The design is a cable-stayed bridge with three towers across the river and a second bridge across the ship canal.  It will be 2.3km long with a river span of 1km. The main bridge deck is made from reinforced concrete and the spans are supported by steel cable stays attached to pylons rising up to between 80 and 125m above the river bed.

As we move on down the ship canal we travel past a number of bridges.  The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal included the construction of several swing bridges and high level bridges which would not obstruct tall vessels travelling on the Canal.

Old Quay swing bridge

Moore Lane swing bridge

Acton Grange Railway viaduct

Chester Road swing bridge

Northwich Road swing bridge

Latchford High Level Bridge, Knutsford Road swing bridge and Latchford viaduct

Latchford Locks.  Latchford was chosen as the location of intermediate locks on the Manchester Ship Canal. These comprise a larger lock for ocean-going vessels and a smaller lock to its south for coasters, tugs and barges. A ship mooring area was provided on the canal’s south bank and enabled two large vessels to pass each other at this point.

Thelwall Viaduct or officially called Thelwall High Level Bridge.  The viaduct is a steel composite girder viaduct close to the village of Lymm  It carries the M6 motorway across the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey.  It actually comprises two entirely separate bridges, one of 4,414 feet long carrying the northbound carriageway, which was the longest motorway bridge in England when it was opened in July 1963, and one 4,500 feet long carrying the southbound carriageway which was opened in 1995.  The longest single span is the one of 336 feet crossing the ship canal.

Warburton High Level Bridge.  Warburton Bridge is a privately owned high-level cantilever bridge which incorporates a public highway the B5159 road, connecting the A57 with the A6144.  It has a statutory toll charge of 12p.  It was commissioned under the Rixton & Warburton Bridge Act 1863. It is unadopted and privately maintained.  It is one of the few remaining pre-motorway toll bridges in the United Kingdom.

Cadishead Railway Viaduct now disused

Irlam container terminal

Irlam Locks.

Barton Locks

Barton High Level Bridge carries the M60 over the ship canal.  It was opened in October 1960 as part of the then M63 and was known as the Stretford – Eccles by-pass.  Prior to its opening all the traffic in the area was forced to cross the Manchester Ship Canal via the Barton Road Swing Bridge or further upstream via the Trafford Road Swing Bridge.  The bridge was designed of such a height to give a clearance from the water level somewhere in the region of 100 feet to allow waterborne traffic to pass freely under it.  It was originally built with two lane carriageways in either direction but road traffic soon increased to the point where it became essential to widen the bridge to three lanes either side with each extra lane being supported by additional reinforced concrete piers built alongside the originals.  The work on this widening process was completed in 1990 – 30 years after its original opening.

Just a little further on a 60ft lifting road bridge which was being built collapsed next to the M60 Barton High Level Bridge in May 2016.  Construction was part way through the bridge which would carry a new dual carriageway over the Manchester Ship Canal to relieve congestion.  The lifting platform crashed onto the canal and has subsequently been taken way leaving the four bridge towers some of which suffered damage in the collapse.  The bridge’s completion has been put back indefinitely.

Barton Road swing bridge and Barton Swing Aqueduct, the only swing aqueduct in the world.  The Barton Swing Aqueduct is a moveable navigable aqueduct carrying the Bridgewater Canal across the Manchester Ship Canal. The swinging action allows large vessels using the ship canal to pass underneath and smaller narrowboats to cross over the top. The aqueduct, is a Grade II listed building and is considered a major feat of Victorian civil engineering.  It was designed by Sir Edward Leader Williams and built by Andrew Handyside and Company of Derby, the swing bridge opened in 1894 and remains in regular use.

Centenary Lift Bridge is the last bridge that we sail below as we then enter into the Salford Quays complex.

We then pulled into a side dock just before the ITV studios.  Media City is well named given the number of broadcasting satellite dishes next to our disembarkation point.

 

The trip had taken us over six hours passing through a varied landscape and a history of our industrial past and present.

Liverpool2 Container Terminal

The relatively new Liverpool2 container port has become quite a landmark on the Liverpool bank of the River Mersey.  I took some photos from the west coast of the Wirral peninsula of the giant cranes at the Liverpool2 container terminal as part of my blog about Thurstaston back in January 2017:  https://briansimpsons.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/around-thurstaston-common/

However if you visit New Brighton you are right opposite the container terminal and you can get a real close up of the giant red cranes which dominate the skyline.

The cranes were built in China and were transported up the River Mersey in November 2015 having set off from Shanghai on the Chinese ship the Zhen Hua23 in August 2015. They arrived after a long 18,000 mile journey travelling through South East Asia, past India and the Arabian Peninsula before rounding the Cape of Good Hope and South Africa.  They lay in port in the Canaries for a few weeks awaiting the final works to be completed at the Port of Liverpool ready for their installation.

The super-structures were produced by Chinese company, Zhenhua Heavy Industries, who are reputably the largest heavy duty equipment manufacturer in the world.  The contract with Peel Ports; who have developed the new deep water container terminal; is said to be worth more than £100m. A total of eight ship-to-shore megamax cranes and 22 cantilever rail-mounted gantry cranes are being supplied to Peel Ports as part of the company’s £300m investment programme to expand and develop the Port of Liverpool.

Each crane measures 92 metres high to the top of the frame, approximately the same as the Royal Liver Building, and 132 metres high when the boom is raised. Each crane weighs around 1,600 tonnes.

The construction of the terminal started in 2013.  Following its opening in November 2016 Liverpool2 became the UK’s largest transatlantic deep-sea port and container terminal and the investment in facilities allow it to accommodate the majority of the world’s current container fleet, including the very largest of modern container vessels which are just too large to navigate the existing Liverpool container terminal.  The new facility employs around 500 people.

The cranes will have the ability to operate at speeds in excess of 30 moves per hour and they will be capable of picking up 24 containers up to 10 high on deck.   The fleet of cranes is supported by a multi-million pound investment in quayside facilities and support technology.

The construction of the new terminal necessitated laying 30,000 cubic metres of concrete, the installation of 15,000m of steel piles and 6,100m of new crane rails. Dredging the river involved removal of approximately five million cubic metres of material from the river bed.  More than 500,000 cubic metres of material was deposited around Taylor’s Bank and other licensed offshore sites.

The new container terminal is just one of the projects that the land owner Peel Group wish to undertake with their Liverpool Waters and Wirral Waters projects which they hope will transform the River Mersey waterfront over the next twenty years.

The day after Storm Doris: New Brighton Lighthouse

Storm Doris hit NW England on Thursday.  It didn’t cause as much damage as anticipated.  While the seas were calmer the day after there were still choppy waters around New Brighton Lighthouse.

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Originally named the Rock Light, the lighthouse has been called Black Rock Light, Rock Perch Light, and it wasn’t until 1870 that the name Perch Rock Light became commonly used but nowadays everyone refers to it as New Brighton Lighthouse.

A light has been maintained on the rock since 1683.  The rock, known locally as Black Rock or Perch Rock gets its name from the Perch which was the tripod like structure which held a fire as an early form of beacon to mark the rock. The light marked the approach for Liverpool bound vessels guiding them away from the sandstone reef that has always been a hazard to shipping using the entrance to the River Mersey.

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When foreign ships, passed the old perch, they were charged sixpence for its respect and upkeep.  However the wooden post or ‘perch’ was often washed away and a boat had to be launched to recover it from Bootle Bay.  In February 1821, the pilot boat “Liver” collided with the perch and carried it away.  It was washed away in March 1824 and not recovered until the December but the cost of replacing it all the time grew too expensive and it was decided to build a new purpose designed lighthouse.

The foundation stone of the new lighthouse was laid on 8th June 1827 by Thomas Littledale, Mayor of Liverpool.  It was designed on the lines of the John Smeaton’s Eddystone lighthouse off the Devon coast by John Foster.  Interestingly it was built of marble rock from Anglesey by Tomkinson & Company. It is 28.5 meter (90 feet) high and is located behind the historic Perch Rock Fort; a Napoleonic defence guarding the mouth of the River Mersey.

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The granite cost one shilling and sixpence (or 7 ½ pence in today’s money) a cubic foot and each piece of stone was interlocked into the next.  The whole of the stonework was coated with what is known as “pozzuolana” a volcanic substance from Mount Etna used by the Romans which, with age, becomes rock hard.  The first 45 feet of the lighthouse forms a solid base with the entrance door above this giving access to a spiral staircase leading up to the lighthouse keeper’s living quarters.  Above this is the lantern house.  A ladder has to be used to gain the necessary height to reach the 15 iron rungs of the lighthouse as the door is 25 feet from the base.

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The revolving light was said to be the first in the country. Overall the lighthouse cost £27,500 to build at that time.  Work was only possible at low tide and it was not completed until 1830.  Its first light shone on the 1st March 1830 and consisted of two white flashes, followed by one red.  The light had a range of 14 miles and was 77 feet above the half-tide level of the river.  The light was at first was powered by Sperm Whale oil.  In 1838 experiments with Acetylene gas were unsuccessful but it was eventually connected to the mainland electricity supply.

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The lighthouse was originally maintained by two or three keepers who took up residence when they were on duty.  However in 1925 the keepers were made redundant when the operation of the light was made fully automatic.

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The Lighthouse last shone its light on 1st October 1973 as it was replaced by a radar system operating in the River.  The lighthouse was sold to Norman Kingham, a local businessman and owner of the adjacent fort.  He had plans to turn it into a holiday home, however it is currently empty.

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When the lighthouse was decommissioned the lighting apparatus was removed and a fog bell that originally hung from the tower was also removed although the bracket from which it hung still remains.

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The whole tower was restored and painted in 2001 with Millennium project funding; this included the placement of a decorative LED light inside the tower, which flashes Morse Code messages including the names of all who lost their lives in the Titanic tragedy

Around Thurstaston Common

At the weekend I walked around Thurstaston Common a part of West Wirral popular with walkers and outdoors enthusiasts.  The weather was not the best for taking photos but there was a weak winter sun in between the showers and dark clouds and foreboding skies in the late afternoon.

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Thurstaston Common is a unique area which together with the adjacent Royden Park comprises an area of almost 250 acres (100 hectares) of parklands, woodland and natural heathland.  It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is a Local Nature Reserve.  The site is jointly owned by Wirral Borough Council and The National Trust and is managed by Wirral Rangers.

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Starting from Telegraph Road you are soon at the top of Thurstaston Hill which is a modest 298 ft (91m) in height.  But it offers extensive views across the Wirral Peninsula and beyond.

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On one side there are views of the Dee Estuary (itself a Site of Special Scientific Interest) and over the River Dee to the Clwydian Hills of North Wales.

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If you look closely enough you can make out the Point of Ayr on the North Eastern corner of the North Wales coast with the Great Orme in Llandudno behind it.

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On the other side of the Wirral peering toward Birkenhead you can see Arrowe Park Hospital in the near distance with the City of Liverpool in the far distance with both cathedrals and various city centre tower blocks being visible.

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Further round are the docks at Seaforth and the newly installed giant red cranes which are part of the new £400m Port of Liverpool terminal 2 development.

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On the third side of the peninsula are the towns of Hoylake, Moreton and Leasowe with Liverpool Bay beyond them and the wind turbines at Burbo Bank offshore wind farm at the entrance to the Irish Sea.

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The clear white painted Leasowe Lighthouse shines like a beacon but while it no longer safeguards the Wirral coast it leads the eye out to the far coast of the Mersey which extends from Crosby through to Formby Point.

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In clear weather, Snowdonia, the Pennine Hills, the Lake District are all visible but not today.

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A brass viewfinder plate was installed on top of the Triangulation point column on the Hill in memory of Andrew Blair, founder of Liverpool and District Ramblers Association to help visitors find their bearings.  However the brass map was stolen from the viewing point in August 2016 and has not been found.  Wirral Council has promised to install a replacement plaque to be produced using photographs of the original brass map.  To this end the Council has appealed to members of the public to provide information or photographs of the original design.

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As you approach Royden Park from Thurstaston Common you can see the Grade II listed building of Hillbark reputed to be one of the finest examples of Victorian half-timbered designed buildings. The house was originally built in 1891 for the soap manufacturer Robert William Hudson on Bidston Hill.  In 1921 the house was sold to Sir Ernest Royden, and he arranged for the house to be dismantled and rebuilt on the present site, at Royden Park, between 1928 and 1931.  Sir Ernest Royden died in 1960 and left the house to the local council and up until the mid-1980s it was used as an old people’s home.  It closed in 1984 and fell into disrepair until in the early 2000s it was converted into a five star hotel.

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In the middle of the common is a relatively new memorial stone erected last year.  Sir Alfred Paton gave Thurstaston Heath to the National Trust in memory of his brother, Captain Morton Brown Paton and the other men of The Wirral who died in the Great War 1914-18.  Captain Morton Brown Paton served with the South Lancashire Regiment and he died in action on 7 August 1915 age 44 at Helles, Turkey.  He was a successful cotton merchant in Liverpool.   The plaque on the memorial marks the anniversary of the family’s donation to the National Trust.

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The habitat of the Common varies from mixed woodland dominated by birches, oak, sycamore and rowan to wet and dry heathland.  Locally rare plants such as marsh gentian, oblong-leaved sundew and round-leaved sundew are found on the common. Animals include common lizard, dragonflies and birds such as yellowhammer and meadow pipit feed and nest in the heather.  Tawny owl, jay, sparrowhawk and woodpeckers can also be sighted in the pine plantations.  Today as I sat on the hill an inquisitive Robin nestling in the gorse, which was out in full bloom, was my main sighting of the local wildlife.

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Within the Common close to Thurstaston Hill is the location of Thor’s Stone, a place of ancient legend.  Thor’s Stone is a large rectangular red sandstone outcrop that is around 50 feet in length, 30 feet wide and 25 foot high which has been eroded over thousands of years.

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This part of Wirral was settled by the Vikings as part of a Norse colony centred on Thingwall which was the local parliament in the 10th and 11th centuries and local folklore says that the rock is named after the Norse thunder god Thor.  Viking settlers according to legend used the stone as a pagan altar when religious ceremonies were held here at Thor’s Stone.  The stone was also known locally as ‘Fair Maiden’s Hall’.

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This is a fascinating period of Wirral’s history.  The Vikings began raids on the Wirral towards the end of the ninth century, travelling from Ireland; they began to settle along the River Dee side of the peninsula and along the sea coast.  The settlement of the Wirral by the Vikings was led by Ingimund, who had been expelled from Ireland in around 902 and gained permission from Ethelfleda, Lady of Mercia and daughter of King Alfred the Great, to settle peacefully on the peninsula.  Most of the village names around the peninsula derive from ancient Norse.

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Geologists and historians now think that Thor’s stone is a natural formation similar to a tor, arising from periglacial weathering of the underlying sandstone with the rock being moulded by water flows under the ice at the end of the last Ice Age.  It was later exploited by quarrymen in the 18th and 19th centuries and weathered by subsequent erosion.  The small pool to the left of Thor’s Stone is one of the wetland areas to be found on the heath.

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Today the soft sandstone has been an easy rock for countless people to have carved their names or messages into for posterity.  There is not an inch of it which doesn’t appear to have been carved upon.

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The top of Thor’s Stone can be reached by a choice of easy scrambles up the heavily eroded rock. The outlines of 230 million year old sand dunes can be detected in the rock layers, a reminder that the area was an equatorial desert in the Triassic period.

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From Thor’s Stone it was a short walk back to Thurstaston Hill and back down the other side to the car park on Telegraph Road.

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An early morning walk in New Brighton

After seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert this week in Manchester I took the opportunity this bank holiday weekend to go down to Merseyside’s own ‘New Jersey Shore’.  Not quite Atlantic City, but New Brighton is situated at the entrance to the Mersey on the north-eastern tip of the Wirral Peninsula, overlooking the Irish Sea and the Liverpool Bay.

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At its peak in the early 1900’s New Brighton was the most popular resort for Merseyside with its own ferry terminal connecting it to Liverpool across the River Mersey.  Amongst other attractions the resort boasted the New Brighton Tower with its own ballroom and at one time Europe’s largest open air outdoor swimming pool on the main promenade.

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Sadly, neither of these attractions now exists.  For years the town has seen many restoration projects fail such as the plans to transform Victoria Road into a shopping centre to match London’s Covent Gardens.  There were plans to develop the stretch of costal area between New Brighton and Wallasey village into a Disneyland type of venture as well as an ambitious ‘Pleasure Island’ scheme to rival Blackpool but neither of these schemes proved viable.

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But New Brighton has now become a ‘New’ New Brighton with the completion in 2012/13 of a major £60 million redevelopment program.  This has included a replacement of an old worn out theatre with the modern Floral Pavilion and the redevelopment on the promenade with the new Marine Point leisure complex with modern restaurants and bars as well as The Light cinema and a hotel.  But there are still the traditional pleasures of the original funfairs, entrainment arcades, large marine lake, a model boating lake and ten pin bowling alley and Laser Quest adventure centre.

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The final part of the New Brighton redevelopment was the construction in 2014 of ‘The Prom’ apartments which comprises of 24 luxury apartments offering sea views, across Liverpool Bay, and the historic Fort Perch Rock and Light House.

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It’s interesting to hear how New Brighton got its name.  In 1830, a Liverpool merchant, James Atherton, purchased much of the land at what was Rock Point, which enjoyed views out to sea and across the Mersey and had a good sandy beach. His wanted to develop it as a desirable residential and holiday resort for the growing number of well off business people.  His aim was to create a resort similar to Brighton on the south coast, one of the most elegant seaside resorts of that Regency period and hence he called it ‘New Brighton’. Development began soon afterwards, and housing began to spread up the hillside overlooking the estuary.  This was aided with the closure of a former gunpowder magazine in 1851.

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During the latter half of the 19th century, New Brighton developed as a very popular seaside resort serving Liverpool and the Lancashire industrial towns, and many of the large houses were converted to inexpensive hotels. A pier was opened in the 1860s, and the promenade from Seacombe, further down the River Mersey, was built through to New Brighton in the 1890s. This served both as a recreational amenity in its own right, and to link up the developments along the estuary.  It was later extended westwards towards Leasowe, making it the longest in the UK.

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The New Brighton Tower, rivalled the more famous Blackpool Tower.  It was actually the tallest tower in the country, opening in 1900 but it closed in 1919, largely due to lack of maintenance during World War I. Dismantling of the tower was complete by 1921 leaving only the ballroom that was at the foot of the tower.

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However after World War II, the popularity of New Brighton as a seaside resort declined dramatically like many other traditional holiday resorts. The Tower Ballroom located in its own grounds continued as a major venue, hosting numerous concerts in the 1950s and 1960s by local Liverpool groups including The Beatles as well as other international stars. But the Tower Ballroom was destroyed by a fire in 1969.  The site is now grassed over and used as a football pitch.

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Another blow to the resort was when the last Ferries across the Mersey to New Brighton ceased in 1971, after which the ferry pier and landing stage were dismantled.  By 1977, the promenade pier had gone as well.

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One of the more peculiar sights is Fort Perch Rock which is a former defence installation situated at the mouth of Liverpool Bay. It was built in the 1820s soon after the Napoleonic Wars to defend the Port of Liverpool.  It was proposed as a fortified lighthouse to replace the old Perch Rock Light, however a separate lighthouse was subsequently built.  The fort was built on an area known as Black Rock, and was cut off at high tide but with coastal reclamation it is now fully accessible. At one point the Fort was armed with 18 guns, of which 16 were 32-pounders, mounted on platforms. It was nicknamed the ‘Little Gibraltar of the Mersey’.  It is now a tourist attraction and museum. It has been, and is still used as a venue for musical concerts and has been listed as a Grade II building.

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Right next to Fort Perch is what is now known as New Brighton Lighthouse originally known as Perch Rock Lighthouse.  Construction of the present structure began in 1827 though a light had been maintained on the rock since 1683. It was designed on the lines of the Eddystone lighthouse by Mr. Foster and built of marble rock from Anglesey by Tomkinson & Company.

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New Brighton has two churches dominating the skyline and which can be seen from the River Mersey. On Victoria Road is the Anglican St James Church by Sir George Gilbert Scott notable for its thin broach spire and a polygonal apse. It now incorporates the New Brighton Visitors Centre.

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The second is St Peter and Paul’s Roman Catholic Church is at the top of Atherton Street, completed in 1935.  This is a very prominent Grade II listed building in the Roman Gesu style, featuring a large dome on a drum. Nicknamed the “Dome from Home” by returning sailors, the church was closed in 2008, but after a public outcry it subsequently reopened in 2011.

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Just as sad as the demise of the tower was the closure of the open air swimming pool in1990.  The old pool is now the site of the new Marine Point development with a Morrison’s supermarket and car park taking up much of the original bathing pool foot print.  The story started in June 1934 when Lord Leverhulme declared open the finest and largest aquatic stadium in the World.  The popularity of this once magnificent and eye catching bathing pool was shown by the fact that 100,000 people passed through the turnstiles in the first week.  It was built on sand, covering an area of approximately 1.8 hectares (4.5 acres) and cost £103,240 being constructed of mass concrete covered with a rendering of white Portland cement.

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The pool was designed to obtain as much sunshine as possible and facing south; it was sheltered from the north winds. Lights which lit up under water were placed at the deep end for night bathing and a 10 metre regulation standard, high diving stage was provided suitable for international diving competitions.  The pool was built also to allow for Championship swimming events and it held some 2,000 spectators for events.  The Pool contained 1,376,000 gallons of pure sea water, filled through the ornamented cascade with the water constantly changed being fed from the adjoining Marine Lake, which acted as a huge storage tank.

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In the 1950s through to the late 1970s ‘bathing beauty contests’ had mass appeal and were popular as they were seen to bring a little bit of ‘glamour’ to the post-war seaside resorts.  The outdoor pool was used extensively during this period with the first Miss New Brighton Bathing Girl contest starting at the Pool in 1949 with the last event in 1989.

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The pool was used for other events such as firework displays and pop concerts including in May 1984 ‘New Brighton Rock’ when Granada Television staged a £100,000 Pop Spectacular at the pool.

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However on 26th and 27th February 1990, hurricane force winds measuring more than 100 mph caused severe damage to the New Brighton bathing pool. With estimated costs of over £4 million to repair the damage it was decided to demolish the building. The then Merseyside Development Corporation (MDC) which had taken over responsibility for the sea front area cleared the open air baths in the summer of 1990 and it lay grassed over until the Marine Point major redevelopment scheme started some twenty odd years later.

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A happier tale has been the Floral Pavilion theatre.  Up until World War II there were seven theatres in the wider Wallasey area including the Palace Theatre, the Pier Pavilion, the Tower Theatre, the Irving Theatre, the Winter Gardens, the Tivoli and the Floral Pavilion.  Whilst the other theatres closed during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s with the advent and growing popularity of television, the Floral Pavilion carried on.  It was opened in May 1913 by the Rt. Hon the Earl of Derby as an open air theatre with a pavilion called ‘The New Victoria Gardens’.  In May 1965 when the glass structure of the theatre was replaced it re-opened as ‘The Floral Pavilion Theatre’. Since then theatre has staged many one-night shows with a variety of artistes.

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As part of redevelopment on the New Brighton promenade the Floral Pavilion was demolished in 2006 and a new £12 million 800 plus seat Floral Pavilion and Conference Centre was built. The theatre was the first phase of the redevelopment scheme and the new complex opened on 13th December 2008 featuring the nationally famous comedian but local legend Ken Dodd who has had a long association with the Floral Pavilion, making his first appearance there in 1940.  The Floral Pavilion’s architect Ken Martin said he had designed the new building to be “theatrical on the inside and outside”, with a wave-shaped roof, bandstands and lighting colonnades. This design captures and is a celebration of the spirit of the old Floral Pavilion.

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The new Floral Pavilion theatre and conference centre continues to attract a number of touring plays and musicians and ending on the Bruce Springsteen theme where I started this post, Nils Lofgren part of the East Street band has played the theatre on a couple of tours, the first time in its old form and his last appearance earlier this year in the new completely rejuvenated venue.

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Birkenhead Priory

It was a sunny morning and I was an early visitor to Birkenhead Priory.

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The Priory is the oldest building in the whole of Merseyside.  It was founded around 1150 by Hamon de Masci, who was the 3rd Baron of Dunham Massey as a monastery for the Benedictine Order.  As well as being the oldest inhabited building in the area it has a rich and varied history to tell very closely linked to its position on the banks of the River Mersey adjacent to Cammel Laird’s shipbuilders.

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The site has recently fully re-opened following extensive restoration work taking place from 2012 to 2015.  The local newspaper the Liverpool Echo have only this month published their ‘Wirral bucket list: 75 things to do in Wirral before you die’ and Birkenhead Priory is listed at number one – they say take in the view from Birkenhead Priory!!  More of that view later.

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The monks looked after travellers for nearly 400 years operating the first regulated ferries across the River Mersey from the ‘headland of the birches’ when at this time the whole of Wirral was covered in dense hunting forest.  ‘Birchen head’ was to become what we now know as modern day Birkenhead.

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The Priory was visited twice by King Edward I due to its strategic importance being close to the borders of Wales and the Irish Sea.  In 1318 the monks were granted ferry rights by King Edward II. This allowed them to build a house in what is now Water Street to store their corn. The house was also used by travellers for shelter if the weather was too bad for the ferry to cross the River Mersey.

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The tower of St Mary’s is all that remains of what was the first parish church of the town which opened in 1821 in the grounds of the priory.  Redevelopment of the area from 1925 resulted in a large amount of housing within the parish being cleared to make way for the construction of the Queensway Tunnel.  At the adjacent Cammell Laird shipyard an expansion of the Number 5 dry dock and the construction of the Princes dock which opened in 1962 resulted in the church losing a significant portion of its graveyard.

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Subsequent redevelopment of the approach roads to the Mersey Tunnel effectively cut off the church from most of what remained of its parish, further dwindling its congregation. In 1971 St Mary’s church was closed with most of the church being demolished in 1975 for safety reasons.  Only the former church tower and parts of the outer walls remain. The tower has since been refurbished and is dedicated to those who died on HMS Thetis.  The remaining walls to the church, which would have been its internal walls, catch the early autumn sunlight with their white painted exterior.

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The site is dedicated as a memorial to those lost in the 1939 disaster aboard the Cammel Laird’s built submarine HMS Thetis. This was the Royal Navy’s worst peacetime tragedy when an accident happened during sea trials for the new vessel which had sailed out to the Irish Sea off Llandudno from Birkenhead.  There were 103 men on board on 1 June 1939, twice the usual number, with the Royal Navy crew swelled by engineers from ship builders Cammell Laird.  Due to a combination of unfortunate circumstances, sea water flooded in and the boat nosedived and was unable to resurface.  The sinking of the submarine resulted in the loss of 99 lives.  It happened three months before World War II.  The Thetis actually grounded on Anglesey on the day war was declared.

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Climbing the 101 steps to the top of St Mary’s tower affords you tremendous views down the river and across to Liverpool and you really do get a ‘bird’s eye’ view of Cammel Lairds shipyard next door.

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The priory’s chapter house was built in the 1150’s as a meeting place for the monks.  After King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries around 1540 it was adapted for use as a chapel where it was the place of worship until St Mary’s church was opened in 1821.  Following restoration work the chapel was rededicated as a chapel in 1919 it is currently consecrated as an Anglican church, and is still used for services today. The chapter house is a Grade II listed building containing items of Norman architecture; it was fully restored in 2005.

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The Scriptorium was built above the chapter house in 1375.  The original use is uncertain but was probably a place where the monks could read and write on their own.  It was restored in 1919 and was repaired after bomb damage during World War II.

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It has a chapel dedicated to the training ship HMS Conway where services are held two or three times a year.  The Scriptorium is the home of the ‘Friends of HMS Conway’.  HMS Conway was founded as a naval training school in 1859 and housed for most of its life aboard a 19th-century wooden battleship which stood in the River Mersey off Rock Ferry.  The ship was moved from the Mersey to the Menai Straits during World War II.

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However whilst she was being towed back to Birkenhead for a refit in 1953, she ran aground and was wrecked.  Training of the naval cadets continued in a new camp in the grounds of the Marquess of Anglesey’s residence at Plas Newydd, using his private dock for seamanship and small boat handling.  In 1964 the new HMS Conway, a purpose designed college close to Plas Newydd, was opened however with the running down of the British Merchant Navy and the emphasis being placed on university style nautical training, it was decided to finally close HMS Conway in 1974.  The ‘Friends of HMS Conway’ was established in 1996 to safeguard the many items of memorabilia from the training school and they were allowed to use the Scriptorium as a museum.

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New stained glass windows have now been installed commissioned by ‘Old Conways’ (former cadets of HMS Conway) and designed by the late David Hillhouse the former curator of Wirral Museums. The furniture and memorabilia were moved from the Conway Centre in Angelsey together with many items donated by ‘Old Conways’ worldwide.

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The Frater Range is the second surviving building off the cloisters next to the Chapter House.  A museum detailing the history of the site is housed in the former undercroft.  Undercrofts were storage cellars but this one was very carefully finished which experts believe means it may have been used as a dining room.

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The museum has an interesting interpretation corner, a small exhibit by Kate White showing a medieval mason at work.  Stone Masons were paid by each brick they carved so they would mark each stone with their own unique symbol and some of these marks can be seen on the Chapter House.  Before the Twelfth century most buildings were of timber construction; the Priory’s stone design is typical of Anglo-Norman monastic buildings.  However the undercofts vaulted ceilings and pointed arches were a new technique and were early elements of the emerging ‘gothic’ style.

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The Refractory above the undercroft on the first floor is a venue space used for craft fairs and the like; it has a modern roof which was installed in 1993.

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You actually enter the site through the Western Range and through it into the cloisters area.  It is still intact but has no roof.  The two storey building was built after 1250.  It contained a number of rooms: the prior’s living room and bedroom, a monks’ parlour, guest hall and guest rooms.  The Western range and Frater Range were the first buildings to be restored when Birkenhead Corporation acquired the site in 1896.

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The churchyard contains the burial vault of the Laird family, which includes John Laird (1805–74), Birkenhead’s mayor and first Member of Parliament and co-founder of the adjacent Cammell Laird shipbuilding company.

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It is an interesting location for Merseyside’s oldest building sandwiched between Cammel Lairds ship yard, small scale industrial units and a more modern development of offices on the banks of the river.  Next to the ancient sandstone walls are the towering cranes of the shipyard next door.  Some of the older industrial units have not aged as well as the priory.

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It is interesting to me how we have treated historic buildings in the past.  Since the priory was first built it has been left to ruin for much of the time but has had periods of active restoration.  During the Eighteenth century it was in ruins but it was still a popular visitor attraction.  The industrialisation from the Nineteenth saw the Priory come under more threat but during 1896 to 1898 the Priory saw the Victorian restoration period.  During the 1960s and 1970s the encroachment of the shipyard and the construction of the Mersey Tunnel saw further threat and the Priory falling once again into disrepair.  Some work was undertaken in the 1990s to patch up the priory buildings.  But more recently from 2012 modern day stonemasons have undertaken major restoration works.  The small team from the local council together with local volunteers continue to ensure the site continues to have life for the future.

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All in all it was a very interesting day exploring almost 900 years of Wirral’s history in one day.

I saw three Queens come sailing in…

For the first time ever the Cunard passenger cruise company’s three cruise liners named after British queens: Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria set sail up the River Mersey.  They were here to celebrate the company’s 175th anniversary.  On Bank Holiday Monday I wandered down to Woodside Ferry in Birkenhead where the Queen Mary 2 was berthed following a contingent of uniformed Police officers who were along the riverside ensuring crowd control.

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The Cunard company was founded by Samual Cunard initially as the British and North American Steam Packet Company with its first ship the Britannia setting sail on 4 July 1840 from Liverpool to Halifax Nova Scotia and Boston.  The company provided the first ever weekly timetabled steamship service across the Atlantic.  For the next 30 years, Cunard held the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic voyage.

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However, in the 1870s Cunard fell behind its rivals, the White Star Line and the Inman Line and the British Government provided Cunard with substantial loans and a subsidy to build two superliners needed to retain its leading position.  In 1934 the British Government offered Cunard loans to finish Queen Mary and to build a second ship, Queen Elizabeth, on the condition that Cunard merged with the then ailing White Star line to form Cunard-White Star Ltd. Cunard owned two-thirds of the new company and purchased White Star’s share in 1947.

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The name reverted to the Cunard Line in 1950.  However in 1998 Cunard was acquired by the Carnival Corporation who are based at Santa Clarita, Los Angeles, California and their British headquarters are found at Carnival House in Southampton.  But it is celebrating 175 years of operation in its spiritual home of Liverpool in 2015.

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More than one million people lined the banks of the Mersey to watch the Three Queens spectacular, according to some official estimates.  Both sides of the River Mersey were lined all the way along, in some places around ten people deep.  I walked along from the Woodside Ferry terminal in Birkenhead along to Seacombe to find a good spot but some people had been there sitting on camping chairs from very early in the day.  I managed to get a spot in the crowd at Seacombe near to the Twelve Quays ferry terminal where the Belfast Ferry was in port awaiting the cruise liners manoeuvres.

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The Queen Mary 2 berthed at the cruise liner terminal in Liverpool on Sunday 24th May.  At 10.45am on Bank Holiday Monday 25th May she sailed out to sea to greet sister ships Queen Victoria travelling from Guernsey and Queen Elizabeth coming from Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands at the mouth of the River Mersey before all three travelled down the river into Liverpool accompanied by a small flotilla of smaller vessels.

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The three cruise ships then made dramatic 180 degree turns in the river to face the Cunard Building, one of the ‘three graces’ on the Pierhead on the Liverpool side of the river, the spiritual home to the cruise line.

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Some people were lucky enough to be aboard the Mersey Ferries to view the Three Queens from the river.  One of the Mersey Ferries has been redecorated as a ‘Dazzle ship’ commemorating the practice which took place in World War 2.

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The Queen Mary 2 then left heading for St Peter Port in the Channel Isles with the Queen Elizabeth tying up at the cruise liner terminal before she too left late in the evening heading to Southampton.  The Queen Victoria moored in mid river and she will berth at the cruise terminal on Tuesday 26th May before she too departs at around 17.30 hours completing a three day celebration.

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The crowds peaked in the afternoon when the three giant ocean liners turned in the river to perform a salute to their spiritual home of Liverpool as the RAF Red Arrows flew overhead at precisely 13.51 hours as scheduled.  The RAF Red Arrows flew over the three Queens on the way to Blackpool Pleasure Beach further up the coast for a public display from 2pm.  I managed to get a couple of shots of the planes as they flew overhead.

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The ships were accompanied up the river by a flotilla of smaller vessels.  The ships themselves have impressive features.

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Queen Elizabeth was launched in 2010 built at the Fincantieri Monfalcone shipyard near Venice, Italy.  She is the second largest Cunard liner ever built.  She has a gross tonnage of 90,900 and is 964.5 feet long.  Queen Elizabeth can carry a total of 2,092 passengers.

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OK3A1779v2Queen Victoria was also built at the Fincantieri Monfalcone shipyard near Venice, Italy.  She is the smallest in the fleet at just 90,000 tons and is 964.5 feet long with a passenger capacity of 2,014.  She was launched in 2007 in Southampton.  Her annual itinerary includes a world cruise.  Queen Victoria has seven restaurants, thirteen bars, three swimming pools, a ballroom, a two storey library and Royal Court theatre.

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Queen Mary 2 was launched in 2004 as the replacement for the Queen Elizabeth 2 which was retired as the transatlantic liner regularly sailing between Southampton and New York.  QM2 is 151,400 tons and is 1,132 feet long which is equivalent to four football pitches or 41 buses.  She was built in St Nazaire in France for £550m.  She has a maximum capacity of 3,090 passengers and 1,238 crew. On board are 2,000 bathrooms, 5,500 stairs and 22 passenger lifts.

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Plans for the 175th anniversary celebrations have been made over sometime and it has taken careful timetabling to allow all three ships to be in the Mersey on one day.  Liverpool is only the fourth place where the three ships have met together.  It certainly was an incredible event not likely to be repeated for some long while.